Feminist Disney Princesses… Or Not

This is no recent hot off the press news that for many years, Disney has been heckled for putting very antifeminist messages into their movies. Since the Disney Renaissance, it seems the Disney film makers have been doing cartwheels to try and create a Disney Princess that aren’t, well, to say it truly, subservient and misogynist. It seems that with every new movie Disney creates with a Princess, it is celebrated as the first feminist Disney princess, and finally a whistle blower scholar says, “Wait, they did it again. This princess isn’t feminist at all.” In this post, I will go over each Disney princess beginning with Ariel from The Little Mermaid at the height of the Disney Renaissance to show how these princess movies are somewhat feminist, but not quite enough. More to the point, why Disney has still not created a true feminist Disney princess.

 

Ariel

The Little Mermaid (1989)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Ariel was the first deceptive attempt of the feminist Disney princess, and for a first try, Disney got closer than most people could reasonably expect. Here is why Ariel at first glance can be seen as somewhat feminist. Compared to the Disney Princesses before her (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) Ariel is very assertive. She defiantly challenges the will of her father. She shows multiple acts of courage, going up against a shark, and being close to humans when in her upbringing she was taught they were dangerous. She goes against normal court life.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

So, yeah, Ariel has some good spunk. But when you come down to it, she is still pretty anti-feminist. This is mainly because of the myth of a mermaid entirely. According to the myth, a mermaid can only become human if she is kissed by a male, has sex with a male, or if a male tells her he loves her. In all these variations, it is pretty much saying that a woman cannot be considered a valuable member of society unless she is accepted by a man. More than this, we also must consider that Ariel feels the need to change herself for a man. And to do so she is willing to give up her voice, the main source of her assertive power. You could even say that by the end of a movie, Ariel is given back her voice by a man.

 

Belle

Beauty and the Beast (1991).

 

Why The Movie Seems Feminist

 

Belle is Disney’s first intellectual Princess. She is an opinionated, avid reader, who also desires to expand her horizons and encounter adventure. She also rejects a proposal of marriage.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

While Belle has a lot of strength, she still, in the end, is an anti-feminist princess. Because in the end, she still has to be saved by a prince, albeit, a very hairy one. And she still has one of those iconic scenes in almost every Disney princess movie when she throws herself on the bed and starts sobbing uncontrollably. Also, it is a bit strange that Belle desires adventure, has a little of it, and then gets married. By normal standards of the 1800’s, other than childbirth, her adventures are over.

 

Jasmine

Aladdin (1992)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Very similar to Ariel, Jasmine has a lot of spunk and disobeys her father’s will. She almost violently opposes marrying someone she does not love. She is also very adventurous and opinionated.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Two words: the outfit. How can she be seen as anything but an object in those skimpy clothes? But, more than that, just like Belle, Jasmine also, in the end, needs to be saved by a man.

 

Pocahontas

Pocahontas (1995)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Pocahontas is probably the closest to a true feminist princess thus far. Mainly because rather than John Smith saving her, she saves him. It only took Disney six years to get that right.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Yes, Pocahontas saves John Smith, but the film is still very dependent on a romance. In the context of the film, Pocahontas is not being strong and independent just to stop bloodshed, but for her love of john Smith. A true feminist story would be her doing this without love in the picture.

 

Esmeralda

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Esmeralda stands up for her oppressed Gypsy kin against the vicious Lord Frollo. You go girl!

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Please tell me you know this one, because these are getting very repetitive. Because like all the other movies, there needs to be a romantic subplot, and she needs to be saved by a man in the end.

 

Meg

Hercules (1997)

 

Why The Movie Seems Feminist

 

Meg is the first sassy Disney princess. She’s even quite overtly sexual. In fact, I’m not quite sure this movie was made with kids in mind. She is intelligently witty and fights to stand up for herself even while she is owned by Hades.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Surprise surprise, she gets saved by a man.

 

Mulan

Mulan (1998)

Why She Seems Feminist

 

Mulan is very close to the real deal. Like Pocahontas, rather than being saved, she saves herself. More importantly, she dresses as a man, works as a soldier, and becomes the type of hero that the prince figure usually is in Disney movies.

 

Why She Really Isn’t

 

They were so close! But of course, in the end, Mulan is a love story, as if Disney is saying, no matter how strong you are, every woman must have love in her life with a strong man you can rely on.

 

Tiana

Princess and the Frog (2009)

 

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Tiana is close to a modern aspiring business woman who wants to better herself.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

But of course, she just has to find love. It is impossible for her to be happy without it.

 

Rapunzel

Tangled (2010)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

As a girl who has been locked up and cloistered all her life, Rapunzel dreams of freedom and independence. God, who he hell wouldn’t?

 

Why It Really Isn’t

Despite Rapunzel’s spirit of independence, she is willing to give that up for a man.

 

Elsa and Anna

Frozen (2013)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

When Frozen was released there was huge hype in the media of it being the real first feminist Disney movie. First off, Elsa is queen in her own right, and has magical powers. She is very easily the most powerful Disney princess to date. Even more so, Frozen sets up the true-love’s-kiss trope to save Anna, but makes an unexpected twist. Anna is saved by her sister’s love rather than the love interest.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Okay, I will admit that with Frozen Disney really tried their best to make a more feminist film. And the twist on the true-love’s-kiss was definitely a step in the right direction. However, there are other issues. The song Fixer Upper almost explicitly sends the message that everyone’s problems are perfected with love. Go on girls! Lower your inhibitions! Get married right now despite any reservations so you can procrate! And, once again, despite everything, in the end, this movie still has a love interest.

 

What it all Means

 

I’m sure my readers have noticed that these summaries became very repetitive. The fact that all Disney princess movies have a romantic subplot sends the message that women cannot be happy without love. Disney is perfectly capable of making movies around male protagonists without a romantic subplot (Brother Bear, a good portion of the Pixar films),  and yet they have never done this with women protagonists or princesses. At least not in their animated films. It really begs the question, is Disney convinced that romance sells movie tickets, or are the writers just plain misogynists?

 

Comparing Mirror Mirror to Snow White and the Huntsman

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I doubt it has escaped the notice of most people that in quite a short span of time, two movies based on the fairytale of Snow White have been released to theaters. Mirror Mirror was released in March, and Snow White and the Huntsman came out June 1st. I have decided to do a double review and then compare the two. Because I can.

Mirror Mirror

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Mirror Mirror was a comedic fantasy directed by Tarsem Singh that really plays with the original fairytale. The evil Queen (Julia Roberts) realizes she is poor and decides marriage with a rich prince will save her. The prince she sets her heart on however, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) falls for the beautiful Snow White (Lily Collins). The evil Queen decides to have her killed. Snow White escapes, making it to the dark forest where she comes across a band of dwarf thieves. Snow White joins them and gathers the strength to take back her kingdom.

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While this movie was mostly geared toward children, I mostly enjoyed it. I thought the interpretation was very creative. My favorite part was that instead of the prince kissing Snow White to awaken her, in Mirror Mirror, Snow White kisses the prince to awaken him from thinking that he is a dog. And for the most part, Snow White fights for herself, rather than the Prince fighting for her. Although I didn’t like how in one scene Snow White feels the need to tell the Prince just that. It made me feel like I was being clubbed over the head. However, considering that this movie is for children, I can understand it.

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However, I found the characters very shallow. Even the most interesting character, the evil Queen is a flat cut out. The movie does not explain why she does what she does. Obviously she wants to be beautiful and powerful, but we need to know why. and possibly by poor acting or sloppy writing (I guess both), the characters of Snow White and the Prince are just not that fleshed out at all. I give this movie a 4 because I like the basic adaptation, but the characters just don’t hold up.

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Snow White and the Huntsman

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Snow White and the Huntsman is a British and American film directed by Rupert Sanders. In this version of Snow White, The evil Queen Revenna (Charlize Theron) discovers that Snow White’s heart can make her immortal. So when Snow Whte (Kristen Stuart) escapes imprisonment, the Queen orders the reluctant Huntsman (Chris Hensworth) to hunt her down. Quickly realizing the Queen’s deceit, the Hunstsman fights to get Snow White to safety so she can strike against the Queen and reclim her throne.

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This movie had some really awesome things about it. The first thing I think of is Charlize Theron. She was a great evil Queen, and a joy to watch. To my excitement, this version of the evil Queen was very fleshed out. The movie explains why she has become so bitter and evil: because she felt men use women until they were tired of them and then leave them to rot. So the Queen uses beauty as power.

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I also loved most of the special effects. The scene when the Queen breaks up into a bunch of crows is amazing. I also loved the mirror, which is basically a metallic, gelatinous man. There are many more, but those are the two I remember most.

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However, there were some problems. First of all, I had no idea what any of the dwarves were saying ever, which was quite frustrating. Even worse, other than the Queen, the characters were very flat. Even more than that, the relationships between them were shallow. There were quite a few moments where I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities. For example, when Snow White is reunited with her childhood friend who she has been separated from for at least ten years, wouldn’t you expect a scene which includes at most running towards each other across a field of daisies or at least an akward hug? And pretty much the entire movie sexual tension is growing between the Huntsman and Snow White. So when William, who clearly loves Snow White joins the group, that should disrupt the dynamic. I also felt the ending was very rushed and anticlimactic. However, the movie was already getting long, so I can understand these holes. I think to help this, the begiing sequence could have been shortened. It was a good sequence to be sure, but not all of it was needed.

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And then, I’m sure you were all expecting this, I have to complain about Kristen Stuart. She kind of seemed dazed and confused the entire movie. And even when she gives an inspiring peech, it seems as if she is thinking “Oh, I actually have a voice?” As my friend Kinsey said, Stuart was really good at letting the other actors act around her. Although I will admit she could have done a much worse job. But it wasn;t good enough. I suspect she was chosen because the film makers thought that if they chose Bella all the Twilight fans would come see the movie.

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So taking everything into account, I give Snow White and the Huntsman a 6. And it is worth seeing, even if all you do is drool after Thor.

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Comparison

Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman have an interesting relationship. Mirror Mirror is a comedy meant for children while Snow White and the Huntsman was very dark and meant for young adults and up.

Obviously, both films are extremely different. However, both attempt to make the fairytale more relevant to today by making Snow White more active and assertive, thus making the story have more feminist appeal. I don’t think either truly succeeded, but I think Mirror Mirror got the closest. As I said before, Snow White is determined to fight for herself and she kisses the Prince rather than him kissing her. However, even though he says she doesn’t want to depend  the Prince’s help, she pretty much does.

Snow White and the Huntsman tries to do this to an extant. Snow White rides into battle with her army. She kills the Queen. However, this adaptation still has the awakening kiss, which is extremely misogynist if you understand the symbolism. It basically says that women need to wait until true love (aka a husband) before their sexual awakening. However, unlike Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman does not end in a wedding, but rather Snow White’s coronation, making the story seem more about her instead of Snow White and the Huntsman together. I wonder if an adaptation of Snow White can be made in which there is no prince or romantic interest. But then it would be very far from the original fairy tale.

In conclusion, I would say Snow White and the Huntsman is the superior movie. It’s more dramatic and visually interesting. However, I think the story of Mirror Mirror is a more creative adaptation of Snow White.

Not Another One: A Commentary on Sequels

We all know about this and have experienced to some degree. I think I started realizing it when I was a teenager. There are a lot of sequels being made in Hollywood. And a lot of them suck, even if the original film was somewhat good. I have decided to tell all my faithful Squids what I think of sequels. The good, the bad, the ugly.

First off, I recognize two different types of movie sequels: there is the first kind, The Intended Sequels, or sequels that have been planned to be created as the first one is being made. These are usually films based off of series of books like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games. However, even if the first book from a series is interpreted into a movie, that does not necessarily mean the sequels will be produced. That factor always depends on whether or not the original made enough money. Remember Eragon? God awful movie that was basically Star Wars with Dragons. It was adapted from a trilogy. Where are the film sequels? They are non-existent because Eragon the film sucked despite the presence of Jeremy Irons and did not satisfy the studio’s bottom line. So the sequels got the axe. Which brings us to our next kind of sequel: the Non-Intended Sequels.

Non-Intended Sequels are sequels that are not planned during the creation of the first film. Maybe it’s being thought of, and ideas are getting thrown around, but nothing definitive occurs until the original is released. If it makes enough money, the sequel is created. If not, no harm done and the original movie may stand alone.

While money is a factor in both types, it is my opinion that it has much more sway in the Non-Intended group, and because of this, the movies are more about money than quality. See, Hollywood knows that if a bunch of people went to see the first one they will go see the second one. So it doesn’t matter as much if it is a good movie. This is why we have what I like to call the Sloppy Sequel Syndrome. The following sequels suffer from SSS: The Hangover, Legally Blonde, Shrek, Ocean’s Eleven, Iron Man, Transformers (but I’m not sure if this one really counts because the original sucked just as badly) Pirates of the Caribbean, and Ice Age. This does not nearly cover them all. Please comment on the sequels you hate! Symptoms of watching movies with SSS may include frustration, disillusionment, hysteria, constipation, anorexia, depression, and in most cases, suicide.

I like to think however that Intended Sequels are more likely of higher quality. This is not always true. Consider X-Men, for example, and the most recent Chronicles of Narnia. I believe however that since the sequels are planned from the beginning the film makers are thinking less about money and are more occupied with getting a true adaptation of the book and making sure fans are satisfied. These are some films with more satisfying sequels: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars (the original trilogy, not the more recent crap) and the Bourne Identity movies.

So now when you go to a movie theater and see a trailer for the tenth Transformers (sadly, you know it’s going to happen) and you think, “Why is another one being made?” Now you know why. Money. It has nothing to do with quality, which is why so many sequels suck. While I do believe in capitalism to a degree, it is not very conducive to art. When you have an American population that is more willing to see robots doing water ballet than a movie with an actual story, what is of quality and what is popular is usually not the same thing. It is the sad tragedy of the movie making business. This is why I’m a cynic. I foresee many a horrible sequel in filmmaking future. Tres tres triste.

The Hunger Games: a Commentary on Book to Film Adaptations

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Yes, I read the books. Yes, I enjoyed them. Yes, for those two weeks of my life I wanted Gale to be a real person and sweep me off my feet… Just kidding. Or so you hope, right?

I really did read the books. So I think this is a good opportunity to talk generally about adaptations from books to screen. A lot of people would be surprised about how many movies actually started out as novels. When a movie is originally a book, the movie always has to walk a fine line between the pressures of quality and faithfulness to the original book. But I believe faithfulness does not mean a movie will be good necessarily. If you use a book as a script and film every single thing in it, the movie would suck. Movies and books are completely different mediums. Both need different elements, different tactics. Thus, when a book goes on the big screen, changes have to be made out of necessity.

Once you accept the idea that changes have to be made, you have to ask, what changes are okay? I think the best guide is the main central plot, and most importantly, the important themes. If the director and screen writer change the theme, they have completely deviated from the original author’s intent. And that is in my opinion not okay. Small details that have no influence on the actual story can be changed. That shouldn’t be cried over. I know a lot of people shed tears over the disappearance of Tom Bombadil from the Fellowship of the Ring, but that needed to happen to make the movie better because all Tom does is talk. No really significant piece of action happens in that scene. However, I’m sure director Gary Ross would have been stoned if he changed Katniss into a dependent floozy who always needs a man in her life—Wait a second…

Keeping those parameters in mind, The Hunger Games actually is a pretty good adaptation. The only things that are changed are not essential to the story. The central plot and the important themes remained intact. That is what a fan should look for. Not that everything is the same, only the important things.

Now, did I think it was a quality movie? It was much better than I expected. I was kind of prepared for something close to Twilight. (And actually I saw the Breaking Dawn Part 2 trailer, and sadly I was the only person in the theater who laughed at it. Maybe I offended some very angsty preteens, but anyway…). To my delight, the movie rose above my expectations. It wasn’t the best movie ever made, but it wasn’t the worst either. And it was definitely entertaining. My one complaint (I’m sure you Squids all know by now that I always have one) is about the action. Actors moved so fast that they would become blurry and I couldn’t follow what was going on. Maybe the director did this on purpose to create the feelings of confusion and uncertainty the characters would be feeling, but he could have toned it down a little bit and it still would have come across without making me want to barf.

For a solid adaptation and an entertaining ride, I give The Hunger Games a 6 out of 10.

The Insomniac in Desperation: a Commentary on Romantic Commedies

Dear Squids,

It is 3:00 AM. I love sleep, but for whatever reason, the powers at be do not see fit to bestow it upon me. So what do I do in case of insomnia? Why annoy people on my own public forum of course! Unfortunately I have not had time to watch a movie (end of semester slogging phase) but I can assess and inevitably complain about (I’m sure you would expect nothing less) something more general in the world of cinema. I chose romantic comedies.

Romantic comedies. Other than scary movies (because I hate nothing more than being scared, except for maybe people making fun of the Purple Tellatubby. Just let him carry his damn purse why don’t you?) romantic comedies are my least favorite film genre. Most of them are formulaic, simplistic, and portray nothing about the real world. And usually they’re not even that funny. If you are going to insult my intellect the least you could do is make me laugh.

Let me go into more detail about my problems with these movies. The first, they are formulaic. How many romantic comedies do you think follow this plot? Girl meets boy, and they instantly detest each other. Girl shockingly discovers that she and boy are being forced together in a way neither can escape. Boy and girl randomly have a sexual encounter and afterwards reject what has just happened, denying the growing sexual tension. Boy and girl realize they actually love each other. And they live happily ever after. Off the top of my head I can already think of two Kathryn Heigel movies, (one of which I happen to own, everyone is a hypocrite at some point) one unfortunate Patrick Dempsey wedding movie that never should have been made, and at least two Sandra Bullock movies. I’m sure if I actually used some effort, I could compile a pretty sizable list. Have I made my point?

Also, these movies tend to be completely unrealistic and unchallenging. That’s fine if you use movies as escapism, but I believe film can do so much more. Movies, just like all other kinds of art, can help us understand the world around us. And I’m sorry, but movies about “Our love can never die” just aren’t reflective of the real world. I realize that makes me sound like a bitter depressing cynic, but—oh, wait, that is me.

And what I really have a problem with is how these movies send a message that love is the be all and end all. I’m quite tired of John Cusack throwing in my face, “Your life won’t be complete without love.” I’m not saying I think love is a bad thing. But as a woman, I can say from experience these movies have a horrible effect on young girls. They morph their minds into thinking that they will never be happy until Hugh Grant comes to sweep them off their feet. (And who would want to be swept away by Hugh Grant anyway? He may be sexy, but if Elizabeth Hurley can’t keep him…) If we really are trying to become a feminist nation, shouldn’t that idea be left in the 1950’s where it belongs?

This is not to say though that I believe all romantic comedies are bad. There are some romantic comedies that I love. These movies do not fit in the formulaic, bad jokes, bad writing stereotype I just constructed. And they usually go beyond their limited genre. The ones that most immediately come to mind would be The Holiday, and 900 Days of Summer.

So now it’s 4:00 AM. I’m going to try to get a few hours of sleep before my class later today. Thank you for paying attention to my late night dribble that I probably won’t remember when the sun comes up.